This week we begin learning Bamidbar, the Book of Numbers. We begin with a census – isn’t it just fascinating how often our Torah readings bring forward events we are experiencing right now? Have you completed your census form, and indicated that you are Jewish? This indication is being promoted so that our local Jewish organizations can be aware of our numbers, receive and distribute funds in accordance with those numbers and need. We read in 1:18….”they established their genealogy according to their families, according to their father’s households, by number of the names, from twenty years of age and up, according to the head count.” Sound familiar?
This week Mr. George Pal, Yosef Yitzhak ben Avigdor v’Valerie, died. He was buried on Thursday at the Hatley Jewish Cemetery. Mr. Pal was one of our last survivors of the Shoah, and with him we all lost one of the last voices to be heard, of those with direct experience of the death camps. Mr. Pal was a member of the Victoria Shoah Project. I wanted to share part of the hesped, the eulogy, I prepared to honour him.
… George’s testimony became his holy return, his words shrouding and burying those whose deathly fate he had survived.
George could have chosen to carry resentment, fear, and hatred for those who had murdered so many millions. Instead, particularly later in his years, he broke his silence. He spoke to all who would listen. Recognition, return, resolution, and redemption – all are part of teshuvah, of forgiveness, and we cannot do else, but wait, for the depths of that consolation to come to us.
In his book, Prisoners of Hope, George stated: “I have often been asked, ‘Do you hate the Germans?’ My emphatic answer is always, ‘No! If I were to blame the entire German people for everything that happened to me, my family and all those who did not survive, I would be making the same mistake that the Nazis made in blaming the Jews for all of Germany’s woes.’ Such generalizing, or demonizing, is dangerous.”
Especially today, we need to hear these words. But George never forget what happened, to him, to his family, to those untold millions who had no chance to speak: “Having survived one of the most monstrous events in human history, I believe that it is my duty to testify. This is crucial especially because Nazi sympathizers and followers continue to exist throughout the world.”
And so we all teeter on that balance beam of life, between silence and word. The need to testify, the need to bring our particular story forward is very real and necessary – and George insisted that we do so in a manner that does not dehumanize those others, whose children and grandchildren by now are also struggling to find their place within their history.
George, and so many of those who survived the Shoah, bring us their Torah. Their Torah teaches us all that evil is all too human. But these precious souls also teach us, just as Yosef and Yitzhak did, that we can forgive each other, and that capacity too is most certainly human.
May his memory be a blessing for us all, and inspire us to continue to learn with each other, and that each soul in our midst is precious, and counts.
Ken y’hi ratzon,
PS: Here is the link for the Yiddish song we played on Shabbat, This Land: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8U-3456DwOg